As the Detroit Tigers are gearing up for another run at the World Series title, they have been the talk of spring training with the national writers.
Whether it has to do with Justin Verlander declaring that he wants to be the first pitcher with a $200 million contract, rookie Bruce Rondon struggling with his control or Rick Porcello still being a Tiger after an offseason of speculation that he could be traded, this spring training has not lacked storylines.
With the regular season approaching on April 1 against the Minnesota Twins, it is a good time to fully examine all the early surprises, busts and injuries that have occurred down in Lakeland, Fla.
Pitcher Rick Porcello has had a terrific spring training for the Detroit Tigers. After a whole offseason where there was speculation around him being traded, Porcello came to Lakeland ready to show the Tigers what he could do.
Porcello, who is locked in a battle with Drew Smyly for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, has looked like a man on a mission. While it is only spring training, Porcello has 14 strikeouts and no walks in 13 innings.
"All his pitches are better right now," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said prior to the game. "Fastball's better. Changeup's better. So is the breaking ball. The breaking ball's been very good this spring."
At the beginning of spring training it looked like Detroit Tigers' prospect Nick Castellanos was a long shot to make the team out of camp. While chances are decent that he will still start the season in Triple-A, Castellanos is making the Tigers' front office think very hard about whether he should start the season in Detroit.
As I have written about previously, Castellanos has shown in spring training that he can hit—which isn't a surprise to the Tigers—and is also settling into left field fairly well.
In 25 plate appearances, Castellanos is hitting .400 with one home run and five runs batted in. He's also showing a keen eye at the plate with five walks so far. If Castellanos doesn't make the team out of spring training, expect him in the major leagues by early summer at the latest.
Rule 5 draft pick Jeff Kobernus has been getting lots of playing time due to the WBC and has made the most of it. Being a Rule 5 player, if Kobernus doesn't make the Detroit Tigers out of spring training, then the Tigers must offer him back to the Washington Nationals.
Kobernus is considered a surprise since he has taken advantage of the playing time and has proven his worth during spring training.
Kobernus has had 42 plate appearances so far and is hitting .263 so far. While other players may have a higher average, Kobernus adds a different element to the Tigers that not many others can—he is great at stealing bases.
Kobernus has 120 stolen bases in four minor league seasons and represents a constant threat on the basepaths that only outfielders Austin Jackson and Quintin Berry can duplicate.
Look for Kobernus to make the team due to his versatility in playing all the outfield positions, as well as second base, where he had played in the minors.
Infielder Danny Worth has unexpectedly looked great at the plate so far in spring training. While it is still early, Worth is hitting .348 in 29 plate appearances.
Worth has been known for his fielding, but his hitting has been a welcome surprise in Lakeland and he is taking full advantage of the additional playing time caused by Ramon Santiago's calf injury.
For a career .244 hitter in the major leagues, Worth is showing more discipline at the plate with six walks already. It seems he may have finally matured and can handle a utility role with the Detroit Tigers.
Worth will need to continue hitting throughout spring training the way he has been, now that Santiago is healthy again.
Regardless, Worth has given the Tigers a difficult decision, which looked unlikely a few weeks ago.
Rookie Bruce Rondon entered spring training as the heavy favorite to close for the Detroit Tigers in 2013. Rondon was touted by Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski as far back as October 30.
Since spring training began, Rondon has struggled with his control, which even caused him to miss an appearance. Since that missed appearance, Rondon has worked on his control and has been markedly better by throwing strikes.
Overall in spring training, Rondon has thrown 5.2 innings with nine strikeouts, but has also thrown five walks and given up nine hits.
With statistics like Rondon's, expect the spotlight to remain on him throughout the rest of spring training.
Fans shouldn't anticipate an answer on whether or not Rondon can handle the Tigers' closer role until the final day of spring training.
I don't expect outfielder Torii Hunter to bat at the .200 clip in the regular season that he is averaging in 37 plate appearances during spring training. However, the Detroit Tigers can't be thrilled to see one of their top free-agent signings this past offseason struggle at the plate.
While it is still very early and chances are good that Hunter will settle into his role as the No. 2 hitter in the lineup, it is a concern since he's 37 years old.
Fans shouldn't worry about Hunter just yet since he's a veteran, but it is something to take note of. Especially since he hit .317 last year in 2012 spring training and .333 in 2011.
Similar to Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez should hopefully get back to being a great hitter for the Detroit Tigers.
While Martinez is only batting .194 in 35 plate appearances during spring training, he is coming off a serious knee injury that caused him to miss all of the 2012 season.
Once Martinez, 34, gets his timing down at the plate, expect him to be as good as ever and play an important role for the Tigers this season.
Regardless of Martinez's hitting, his leadership, which was missed last season, will be crucial for the Tigers this season.
Outfielder Brennan Boesch was waived by the Detroit Tigers on March 13. Boesch entered spring training without a roster spot guaranteed, but wanted to prove to the Tigers that he could hit consistently.
Unfortunately, he never got a chance to because on February 16, he suffered an oblique muscle injury that was supposed to only be day-to-day. Oblique injuries tend to linger for a while, and he didn't return to action until March 5.
Once Boesch returned, he still struggled at the plate. In 18 plate appearances, he only hit .188, leading to him being waived.
Santiago, who has only played four games in spring training, is hitting .333 in 10 plate appearances. Part of Santiago's value to the Tigers is his ability to play shortstop and second base, but if his injury limits him, he could be in trouble.
Santiago needs to prove to the Tigers that he can remain healthy and produce at the plate. If he fails to do so, then his time with the Tigers might be coming to an end.
*All statistics are as of March 12
**All statistics are from baseball-reference.com